Chinese cuisine

why meal kit company Dispatch champions chefs you haven’t heard of

Tell us about Spotlight
We want Dishpatch to be a platform for emerging and pioneering chefs as well as established, quality-driven operations. Spotlight partners exclusively with lesser-known chefs who don’t yet have their own restaurant. The Dishpatch team love food and restaurants and the mission has always been to share that with a much wider audience. And discovering promising talent is an integral part of it.

Who are some of the chefs involved in Spotlight?
Our first partnership was with Jenny Phung, who runs Ling Lings – a cult pop-up that operates out of East London pub The Gun. The Ling Lings Meal Kit champions modern Chinese cuisine and offers four dishes, including shrimp, chicken and Thai basil wontons; smoked flank steaks with pork soufflés and pickles; and matcha and white chocolate tiramisu. Other partnerships we have to come are with Chef Paris Rosina, who has run a number of retro-inspired supper clubs with dishes like Chicken Kiev and Russian Salad; and Ruben’s Reubens Smokehouse, based in Brixton, run by Ruben Daw. The Dishpatch team comes from the restaurant industry and this project was about using that knowledge to seek out chefs with unique ideas and dishes.

With restrictions easing and most restaurants reopening, where does that leave the meal kit market?
It’s still pretty strong. We have to remember that these kits didn’t exist two years ago, and this time last year, with the country back in lockdown, it was really exploding. At Dispatch, we saw a correction when restaurants started to reopen in early summer, but since August we’ve been up about 20% month-over-month. Our December 2021 was twice as large as December 2020, and our January numbers are, for now, consistent with April of last year, when the sector was still largely closed. It’s not quite what it used to be, but it’s clearly not going away and is continuing to grow sustainably.

Dishpatch recently released a meal kit from Michel Roux Jr. indicating that there is always an appetite for top chefs to come to your platform. What is the lasting appeal for them?
Dishpatch is a partnership. We work with restaurants to develop the menu and advise them on product development, and we select who we partner with. What we are seeing from the restaurant side is that even though they are now open, they are not out of the woods in terms of the challenges they are facing. Between staffing, Omicron, and rising costs for supplies and utilities, it’s a perfect storm. All restaurants, including those that have always had and still have lineups, are looking to diversify their revenue streams. Historically, the only real option has been for restaurants to use a third-party delivery platform, but that just doesn’t work for a lot of the high-end restaurants we work with, and therefore for them, meal kits are such an obvious solution.

Is this where you see the direction of the meal kit market in the future?
Yes, for chef-led restaurants, this is a great way for them to reach a wider audience. At Dispatch, around 65% of orders are from outside London and the average distance between restaurant and consumer is 77 miles. We have customers in all corners of the UK. There are people all over the country who love good food but don’t have access to the kind of diverse food scene of a big city like London, and that’s what we bring to them.

What is the biggest challenge for the meal kit market in the coming year?
Meal kits are still a whole new category for many consumers and there are still millions of people who haven’t purchased or tried one. In three to five years, ordering a meal kit is going to be as commonplace as ordering hot food delivery or going to a restaurant, and the challenge for Dishpatch and everyone in the space is how do we get that first experience in front of as many people as possible. We are in the foothills of the meal kit market and we want to grow it as much as possible.